When Ryan Carpenter realizes the scientists he works for are torturing sentient beings, he feels the need for penance in the form of helping the shifters free their comrades. To that end, Ryan heads to Oregon to offer aide in shutting down one of the scientist’s training facilities and freeing any captive shifters. He’s unprepared for one of the men, Sam Abbott, a Texas longhorn bull shifter, to express an attraction to him. Unfortunately, Ryan has secrets of his own, and knows if he becomes involved with Sam, a shifter, his own transgressions against Sam’s kind would eventually come out, destroying anything they might have built. Walking away—especially for the good of everyone—should be easy, right?
Sam Abbott heard the rumble of a vehicle engine and the crunch of tires on gravel.
Must be Luc returning with that Ryan fellow.
He wasn’t certain how he felt about Kontra agreeing to use the human’s intel to shut down a training facility somewhere around them in Oregon. Oh, Sam knew they needed to shut down the facility. He just remained skeptical about trusting a human that had worked for the scientists.
Still, Kontra seemed sure, and Sam trusted his alpha.
Returning his focus to his crossword puzzle, he read the next clue. Seven letters. Pensive, melancholy, or thoughtful. Sam cocked his head, thinking. He knew that with that kind of clue, the answer would be a synonym. He glanced at the space the word should go and saw the second letter should be an I and the last letter an L.
“You are such a cheater!” Land hollered, throwing a couple pieces of popcorn at his mate, Payson.
Payson—a hyena shifter with one or two screws loose, but more loyalty than anyone could ask for—laughed and threw popcorn right back at his human mate. “It’s not my fault I’m better at chess than you,” he crowed. “You’re just jealous.”
Land lifted a hand and pointed at Payson. “You didn’t deny it! You did cheat! I knew it! What’d you do? How’d I miss it?”
Looks like their chess game is done, Sam thought, watching with amusement as Payson grabbed Land’s hand and yanked him halfway across the coffee table. Chess pieces went flying.
Yep, definitely done.
He watched for several seconds as Payson pulled a struggling Land all the way across the table, into his arms, and laid one on his mate. Land immediately stopped struggling…well, to get away anyway. Now, he wriggled over the table the rest of the way and straddled Payson’s lap as they took the kiss deeper and really went after each other’s mouths.
Looking away, Sam wished he could find his own mate. He wanted that…the all-consuming need, affection, even the fighting. I want it all, he thought wistfully.
Wistful! Of course.
He wrote the word into the crossword puzzle just as he heard the door open. He didn’t look up until he’d double-checked his work. Yep. That works. Smiling at his progress, satisfaction filled him. He’d managed to get about half done while Luc made the run to the airport.
Sam looked up when their guest’s scent tickled his senses—smooth and bitter, like the finest scotch—it made him want to take a big drink of the man. The view of the guy was just as nice. Maybe six foot two, strong, well-muscled limbs and lean lines, a chiseled jaw and masculine features, topped off with shortly buzzed dirty-blond hair and a piercing hazel-eyed gaze that was currently focused on Land and Payson—who completely ignored the newcomer and Luc’s arrival and continued to make out.
Sam really wanted the guy’s focus on him. He rose from his chair, placing the crossword puzzle and pencil on the end table. “You must be Ryan Carpenter,” he said, his deep voice finally interrupting the kissing couple.
While a still-shy Land hid his clearly flushing face against Payson’s neck, the hyena shifter grinned over at the new guy. “Oh, hey, man,” Payson greeted. “Welcome.”
“Uh, yeah, thanks,” Ryan responded, then finally turned and focused on Sam. Licking his lips, he nodded. “And, yeah, I’m Ryan.”
Meeting Ryan’s hazel eyes, Sam felt the blood rush through his veins. Mate!
He opened his mouth, not certain what he planned to say, but Luc interrupted him. “This is Sam, Land, and Payson,” he said, pointing to each of them in turn. “As I’m sure you can guess, Land and Payson are fairly newly mated.” He rolled his eyes and added dryly, “They can’t keep their hands off of each other.”
Payson snorted while running his hands over Land’s spine provocatively through his shirt. “Awe, Luc, you know there’s no reason to keep my hands off my mate while we’re in our own place.”
Luc snorted. “Yeah.” He grinned and swept his gaze over the pair. “At least the view is pretty.” He put his arm around Ryan’s shoulders companionably. “Don’t ya think?”
Sam couldn’t hear Ryan’s response over the blood roaring through his veins. An undeniable need to get Ryan away from Luc surged through him. “Mine!” he snarled as he lunged forward.